Swedish state schools may drop ancient and medieval history from the curriculum to make room for postmodernism and “democratic values,” according to a controversial new proposal that has enraged many Swedes, local media reports.
The history of “ancient civilizations, from prehistoric times to around 1700” is absent in a proposed new curriculum for Swedish state primary schools in favor of focus on modern history and social sciences, Anna Westerholm, the Swedish National Agency for Education’s curriculum department head, told Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday. Tight class schedules leave no room for it, she said.
History has already been de-prioritized through “extensive deletions,” according to SvD, and formative eras like the Roman Empire and the Viking Age will now be removed altogether in favor of subjects like immigration, the environment, climate, “norm-challenging,” critical theory, “democratic values,” and gender roles. The emphasis will be on a “postmodernist view” of society, rather than the classical philosophical tradition, SvD reports, and history classes will focus on Western colonialism, nationalism, and the slave trade.
Westerholm reasoned that trying to squeeze too much history into the school year often forces teachers to cut off instruction before they even make it to World War II – meaning they miss out on learning about the post-war period. Additionally, teachers and students have complained that grading criteria are “difficult to interpret” and “long and complicated.”
“It hurts us too,” she sympathized, insisting the agency had done a “fairly thorough examination of how content and hours match” and found that removing ancient and medieval history “hurts the least.”
The idea has incensed professors and educational professionals. History professor Dick Harrison, speaking to Aftonbladet, called the idea “bizarre and baffling,” while Dagens Nyheter literature critic Maria Schottenius called it “crazy” and warned it would deprive students of a connection to their heritage.
“If you have no knowledge of the ancient, you can have no respect for the future either,” social science and ancient culture scholar Jenny Wallensten, of the Swedish Institute in Athens, told SvD, calling the new proposal “absurd.”
“To erase antiquity from history teaching? Unfortunate,” former Minister of Education Jan Björklund tweeted, adding that “the same proposal came when I was a minister, but I stopped it.”
While students have the option of studying ancient history in high school, those enrolled in vocational programs get very little exposure to it, Westerholm admits.
The new curriculum also emphasizes the reading of Norwegian and Danish texts and includes discussion of honor killings in social studies. Vocational education is deemphasized and students are given fewer electives, according to Swedish outlet Bohusläningen, while more hours are devoted to mathematics and sports.